By Suoyo Ekubo
The Supreme Court on Friday, in a landmark judgment, resolved the ownership dispute of 17 oil wells between Rivers and Imo states in favour of Rivers.
In the judgment delivered by Justice Emmanuel Agim, the apex court dismissed the counter claim ownership put forward by Imo State government.
According to NAN the oil wells, located in the territories of Rivers and Imo states, have been a subject of litigation at the apex court which served as a court of first instance with seven Justices in the panel.
Hailing the ruling in Port Harcourt, Governor Wike explained that the state was in court with neighbouring Imo, not to claim victory, but to defend its ownership rights of oil wells in Akri and Mbede communities.
The governor said: “It bears repeating that the quest to defend our ownership rights through the courts over the Akiri and Mbede oil wells was not intended to claim victory over Imo or any other state.
“We also deplore the collusive actions of the National Boundary Commission (NBC), which, unfortunately, has functioned more in causing confusion than resolving boundary disputes.”
According to Wike, while the dispute lingered, NBC did nothing in demarcating the boundaries to establish the proper location and title to the disputed oil wells.
He added that, instead of ensuring that NBC did its work, former Governor Emeka Ihedioha of Imo rejected the 50:50 sharing formula and claimed exclusive ownership of the oil wells.
“To actualise the spurious claims, he (Ihedioha) stealthily wrote a letter dated August 9, 2019 to President Muhammadu Buhari and requested the refund of N15 billion from Rivers to Imo as backlog of proceeds from the 13 per cent derivation revenue of the oil wells.
“Acting on Ihedioha’s letter, the President warranted a letter to be written to the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) through the late Chief of State, Mr. Abba Kyari, to alter the status quo in favour of Imo without reference to the subsisting dispute and agreement between the two states.”
Wike said Rivers state was surprised by that action, because since 1999, Peter Odili and Achike Udenwa, former governors of Rivers and Imo respectively, had agreed to 50:50 sharing of derivative proceeds from those wells.
“Accordingly, we first applied to the Federal High Court, Abuja, and, among other reliefs, successfully challenged the powers and authority of the President to direct the RMAFC and or interfere in any manner whatsoever with the distribution of public revenues from the distributable pool account, including the Federation Account.
“In approaching the Supreme Court in this matter, we believed that the dispute between the two state and the contentious issues are such that the court can judicially, justly and expeditiously determine with the available facts and supporting evidence, including valid administrative maps, subsisting judgment and other relevant documents,” he said.
Governor Wike also expressed delight in the apex court’s verdict, hoping that Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo would accept the outcome in good faith, while exploring ways to accommodate any possible compromise from Rivers.
“This, we may readily oblige, notwithstanding Ihedioha’s action, who, despite the extensive support and goodwill he received from the government and people of Rivers to become governor, led the onslaught and created a wedge between two brotherly states.”
Wike thanked the lawyers, who prosecuted the case and announced the conferment of Distinguished Service Stars of Rivers State on each of them.
Speaking also, the Deputy Governor, Ipalibo Banigo, said, “Rivers people are happy for yet another victory Wike has secured for the state” by legally protecting its oil assets.
Rivers Assembly Speaker, Ikuinyi-Owaji Ibani, noted that a good leader like Wike makes history from which useful lessons can be learned like defending Rivers’ interests and extending hands of fellowship to Imo.
On his part, Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Elders’ Forum, Chief Ferdinand Alabraba, described Wike as a useful instrument God has used to take Rivers to greater height of success.
The court agreed with Rivers that the correct instruments, map and documents to be relied upon in determining the boundary between Rivers and Imo were those used by Rivers in delineating the boundary line between the two states, including Decree 14 of 1967, Decree 12 of 1976, the White Papers/Conclusion of the Federal Military government on the Irikefe and the Nasir Boundary Commission/Boundary Adjustment Commission, the Eastern Nigeria Map, the Map of Owerri, Warri Province, Onitsha and Rivers provinces, as well as the Ahoada District Map and Aboh Division Map.
Justice Ogunwumiju, however, refused to grant the N500 million cost requested by Rivers, among other reliefs. But many Imo personalities have expressed misgiving over yesterday’s judgment by the Supreme Court. Douglas House, Owerri, was calm, as most government officials were in low tunes discussing the issue with long faces.
The Commissioner for Petroleum Resources, Chief Goodluck Opiah, could not be reached as at press time. But the National Coordinator of Save Imo, Ebubeagu Ekenulo, expressed misgivings after receiving the information.
His words: “Bad news for Imo State! Supreme Court ceded our oil wells to Rivers in her judgment. I am personally pained. To lose 17 oil wells is not a tea party. Imo lost big time!”
Chief Felix Eke commented: “We must learn to appreciate hard work. Remember that the previous administrations did nothing about this issue. It is only now that somebody was able to secure up to 30 oil wells that had been domiciled in Rivers.” Governor Hope Uzodimma was in Ebonyi State on Thursday to welcome President Muhammadu Buhari, who was on a state visit.